Friday, January 30, 2015

Why You Should Print Your Photos

Mystery Drive - Stallion Springs, California
I had a print of this photograph, so I entered it in a photography contest.
You should print your photographs. Don't let them be just digital images on your hard drive. Have a physical print made.

Why? Because it is tangible--you can touch it. Because digital will only last so long (hard drive will crash or the format it is saved in will become obsolete or it will get lost in folders and forgotten about). Because people (besides yourself) might have a chance at seeing the printed image, especially if you display it somewhere. Because it is just cool viewing your image as a printed photograph.

For me, a whole new reason emerged.

A local art gallery hosts on annual photography contest. I've been meaning to enter each of the last several years (ever since I moved here from Arizona), but each time I failed to do so. Either I was unaware of the dates until it was too late, or I just got busy and forget. For whatever reason it just slipped by. The same thing almost happened again this year. I found out about the contest deadline at the last minute.

Thankfully I had printed photographs that I could easily prepare for entry. If I hadn't had these images printed several months ago, I would have missed another year of entering the competition. Instead, I was actually able to do what I've been intending to do for several years now.

So print those images! Make physical photographs from those digital files. You never know when they'll come in handy.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thoughts On Published Photographs (Sigma DP2 Merrill, Nikon D3300 & Nokia Lumia 1020)

1956 Chevy Bel Air At Cameron's Dairy - Tehachapi, California
This photograph was recently published in a magazine and was captured using a Nikon D3300.
I've had 14 photographs published over the last two (January and February) issues of Urban Explorer Magazine. That's pretty cool.

I was thinking about these images and the cameras used to capture them. That led to a few thoughts.

Nine of the 14 photographs were captured using a Sigma DP2 Merrill camera, four were captured using a Nikon D3300 DSLR, and one was captured using a Nokia Lumia 1020. There are some things to take away from this.

The Sigma camera was my primary camera for just over one year. The camera produces amazing image quality at low ISO, but isn't particularly great outside of that. Sigma's software, which you have to use with this camera, is horrendously slow. I got rid of my DP2 Merrill because I didn't want to put up with these limitations any longer.

Looking at the nine photographs captured with the camera I can see why I did put up with the limitations and snail-pace. The DP2 Merrill, in the right situations, is a fantastic photography tool.

I replaced the Sigma camera with the Nikon D3300 about five months ago. I'm able to get image quality near that of the Sigma at low ISO, but I no longer have the limitations and slow workflow that came with the Sigma. The D3300 has shown to be a good replacement.

A lot of people are surprised by that. After all, the DP2 Merrill is often compared to full-frame cameras and even medium-format cameras, while the D3300 is the least-inexpensive DSLR available (excluding older models that can still be found new). Yet the D3300 holds its own very well.

Perhaps the biggest surprise (for some, anyway) is that the Nokia Lumia 1020 produced an image worthy of publication. This isn't a shock to me, though. The camera found on this cell phone is pretty good. Not quite as good as the DP2 Merrill or D3300, but not all that far behind, either.

The takeaway here is that you don't have to have expensive gear to create successful images. Cameras that others might scoff at are actually very capable photography tools.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

25 Quick Thoughts On Photography

Brownie Target Six-20 - Stallion Springs, California
Here are 25 quick thoughts that I have on photography. Ready, set, go!

#1. Cameras don't matter. Ever. Either you can or you cannot capture great images.

#2. Those that say that cameras do matter are often insecure in their own abilities. They believe that having top-of-the-line equipment somehow make's their photography better.

#3. If great gear is necessary to create great photographs, how can one explain the great photographs captured with cell phones, Holgas or home-built cameras?

#4. A "crappy" camera in hand is worth two Leica's at home on a shelf.

#5. What does matter in photography is photographic vision.

#6. Creativity and the decisive moment are essential.

#7. You should photograph whatever it is that fascinates you. The more a subject interests you, the more energy, effort and brain power you'll put into it.

#8. Photography is very simple. Anyone can do it, and it doesn't take much effort to learn the basics of how everything works.

#9. Great photography is very difficult. It takes years of practice (and mistakes) to even begin to understand it.

#10. Failure is good, just as long as you learn from it and keep moving forward.

#11. A simple camera set up is better than a complex camera set up. You are more likely to use something if you can just grab-and-go. Less is more.

#12. Less is also more when it comes to each image. Almost always it is better to include the least that you can (and still get the point across) in the frame.

#13. Don't over-complicate things. Too much complexity in any part of photography will weigh you down over time.

#14. Photographing close to home is good. You have much more access to what is around you than places that are far away.

#15. Photographing far away is good, too. It's amazing what visiting great places does for your spirit.

#16. Photography books are better than photography magazines. Books will show you how to do something or will inspire you or educate you somehow. Magazines will also do that, but they have a tendency to give you G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

#17. G.A.S. is bad because it takes your time, attention, money and energy away from what matters most in photography, and forces you to use it on what matters very little.

#18. Photography forums are pretty much useless. The strongest personalities on them are often amateurs that live in their parent's basement, and these strong personalities typically drive out the most helpful people.

#19. It's good to have someone who's opinion you trust critique your photographs. He or she might notice something that you've completely overlooked that will make a big difference for your photography.

#20. Be careful who you listen to when it comes to critics. Some opinions aren't worth anything, and some are even destructive.

#21. A quick post-processing workflow is great. You don't want to spend too much time sitting at a computer while the rest of life passes by. Find any shortcuts you can to speed this up.

#22. Want the look of film? Shoot film. Want digital images that look pretty darn close to film? Use Alien Skin Exposure software.

#23. Don't let the number of "likes" or "stars" or "favorites" fool you about a photograph. I've had some weak images get a lot of positive attention while some strong images got almost nothing.

#24. Try and capture at least one photograph a day, and never let a week go by without using your camera.

#25. Photography rules should be ignored. Sometimes they are appropriate for a scene, sometimes they are not. Often the best images broke at least one photography rule.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Deflategate - New England Patriots, Footballs & Ethics - Did They Really Cheat?

A Football Dream - Stallion Springs, California
This is a photography blog--not a football blog--so why am I writing this post? I'll be honest: hits for this site, the biggest television event in America will be next Sunday, and I'm a New England Patriots fan. I'll step outside my usual boundaries for this article.

In case you don't know (and who at this point doesn't know?) the New England Patriots, after their decisive victory over the Indianapolis Colts, were accused of deflating their footballs. The supposed reason for doing this was so they'd have better grip while playing in the rain.

The NFL has a clear rule for the inflation levels of footballs: 12.5-13.5 PSI. Each team submits 24 footballs (12 primary and 12 backup), plus some specifically for the kicking game. The teams submit these footballs two hours prior to the start of the game and an official checks their inflation levels. If they find the balls under-inflated they are supposed to add air to bring them to standards, and if they find them over-inflated they're supposed to let air out. Who knew?

Anyway, the balls were measured prior to the game and then again at halftime, and 11 of the 12 primary balls were found to be under-inflated (by 2 PSI, a leaked report claimed). They were correctly inflated at the beginning of the game and were incorrectly at halftime. So someone must have tiptoed into wherever the balls were kept and let some of the air out, right?

That's what ESPN and all of the other sports networks would have liked everyone to believe. It's been relentless. "Liars! Cheats!" They've yelled. It has been completely over-the-top, much like when The Fonz jumped the shark on Happy Days.

Then Bill Belichick came out and said that the team conducted all sorts of tests (scientific-sounding tests) and concluded that Mother Nature is who cheated, not the team. The under-inflated balls can be explained by physics.

People who actually know a thing or two about this came out and said that Belichick's explanation is indeed reasonable. HeadSmart Labs explains it pretty simply in the video below.

Science explains how footballs can deflate on their own. Nobody had to deflate the footballs because that's what they were going to do in this game no matter what. Had the Patriots inflated their footballs to the maximum allowed PSI, they might have remained within the limits during the game. But they inflated their footballs to the minimum, so they stood no chance.

The plot thickens, though. Apparently it was someone at the New York Jets who told the NFL that the Patriots use under-inflated footballs. The Jets and Patriots are rivals, but more importantly the Patriots had just filed paperwork against the Jets for illegally tampering with a player (trying to get a player to play for their team while still under contract with another team, which is against the rules). It's clearly a tit-for-tat. The Colts played along too, still embarrassed from their crushing defeat.

And then another (leaked) report comes out that says only one of the 12 footballs was found to be near 2 PSI under-inflated, ten were about 1 PSI under-inflated and one was correctly inflated. So it isn't quite what was initially reported.

Some have wondered why there is a discrepancy from ball-to-ball, and a big part may be explained by how much each football was used and how much exposure each had to the rain. Even so, each ball is unique and no two balls will deflate exactly the same. Why were the 12 backup footballs found correctly inflated at halftime? Because they had not yet been exposed to the colder temperatures and rain.

Another claim is that the Colts footballs were not found to be under-inflated. But the NFL has said nothing about the Colts footballs. Nobody knows what PSI they were initially inflated to or what they were found to be at halftime, if they were even measured at halftime. So no one knows--it is simply speculation.

I've also heard some say that the Patriot's quarterback, Tom Brady, should have been able to tell if a football was under-inflated just by touching it. But that's just ridiculous. The difference in "give" that a football under-inflated by 1 PSI has is so minimal it's tough to tell when you are comparing two footballs side-by-side (let along judging one ball by itself). At 2 PSI it is easier to tell the difference, but only one ball was found to be under-inflated by that much and we have no idea when and how much that ball was used. Besides that, if Mother Nature was indeed responsible, the footballs would have slowly deflated over time, making it even more difficult to tell.

The sports media has been horrendous throughout all of this. They've made all sorts of accusations without any proof whatsoever. They are clearly biased. They don't want to consider other explanations. The Patriots cheated and then lied about it, end of story.

But it's not the end of the story. It's not likely the story at all. And unless the NFL comes out with a video tape showing someone tampering with the footballs, the sports media is going to lose a lot of credibility. Honestly, they look like fools right now.

And the NFL is treading on thin ice, too. Supposedly the Jets tipped them off prior to the game. If the NFL knew the Patriots were cheating, why knowingly let them cheat for half a game? A playoff game, no less! That does nothing for the "integrity of the game." Yet if the NFL says that they found no evidence of cheating, why allow all of this nonsense to happen before the biggest game of the year? Either way, the NFL comes across as handling this situation wrong from the start.

And why the big deal over any of this? Did the under-inflated footballs have any bearing on the outcome of the game? No. In fact, the Patriots did even better when using the 12 backup footballs in the second half. If anything, an argument can be made that the under-inflated footballs actually made them play worse.

Besides that, nobody seems to care that Brad Johnson once tampered with footballs for the Super Bowl, or that the Green Bay Packers routinely submit over-inflated footballs, or that the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers were caught on camera breaking a rule regarding footballs earlier this season. Those things haven't gained any attention, yet no one will stop talking about "Deflategate."

My only explanation is that people are tired of the New England Patriots winning. They don't want to see them in the Super Bowl. The team has had too much success for too long. It's time for some other teams to have the spotlight for awhile. And if they won't stop winning, then they'll be brought down to size some other way.

This whole thing is quite ridiculous. It's been overblown to such a degree that it is basically a joke now. And until the NFL shares the findings of their investigation, everything is pure speculation. We know nothing, really, other than some footballs were under-inflated and that Mother Nature had something to do with it and quite possibly everything to do with it.

Beyond that, nothing else is sure.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

5 Things You Never Knew About Tehachapi, California

Tehachapi, California is an interesting place. A quaint town in the Tehachapi Mountains between the Mojave Desert and the San Joaquin Valley, most know it as a travel stop along Highway 58.

But Tehachapi has a lot of surprises. There is more than meets the eye. And there's a reason to stop and stay awhile.

The "5 Things You Never Knew About Tehachapi" listed below may not be a surprise to the locals. I think some residents may be unaware, but, by-and-large, those who live in the area already know these things. It's those that just pass through on Highway 58--those that have been to Tehachapi but have never spent much time in Tehachapi--that this will be a surprise to.

#5 - Take A Hike
The Happy Wanderer - Tehachapi, California
Stay On Trail - Tehachapi, California
One thing that even some locals are unaware of is that Tehachapi is a great place for hiking. There are short and easy options, long and difficult treks, and some hikes that fall somewhere in-between.

The renown Pacific Crest Trail passes through the area just east of town. You can hike north from Cameron Road (at Highway 58) towards the Sierra Nevada's and eventually end up in Canada. Many hike five or so miles up and back as a day trip. You can travel south from Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road (at Cameron Road) through the desert and end up at the Mexico boarder. Or, there is a six mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail in-between these two points that meanders through the wind turbines--perfect for a day hike.

Among the pine trees in the Tehachapi Mountain Park south of town is a moderately difficult hike that offers some great views. The trail is under five miles round trip, but the gain in elevation is about 2,000'. There is a section of the trail near the top that is on private property and signs warn you to keep out.

Meadowbrook Park has some nice walking trails that are in town and are easy. Paralleling Tucker Road between Tehachapi Boulevard and Highline Road is another easy trail found in town. Besides that, the outlying communities of Stallion Springs and Bear Valley Springs have numerous hiking trails that are for residents of those communities. Oh, and see the #1 thing you never knew about Tehachapi below.

#4 - Mustangs
Wind & Horses - Tehachapi, California
A Wind Farm - Tehachapi, California
There is a herd of about 100 wild horses that live in the hills southeast of Tehachapi. Located in the Oak Creek Pass, and often seen near the Tehachapi-Willow Springs road, the horses live under the wind turbines.

Little is known about these horses. Some believe that they are descendants of escaped Morgan horses from a breeder that used to reside in the area over 100 years ago. Other people think that they are descendants of horses that escaped from Spanish explorers or native american tribes.

If you're driving on the Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road, keep a close eye out for horses grazing on the grassy Tehachapi Mountain hills. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you'll see a large group of them near the road.

#3 - Breathtaking Views
Trail View - Tehachapi, California
Gold Above The Valley - Tehachapi, California
It's not a big surprise that there are some good views to take in around Tehachapi. After all, the town is in the mountains. But what you might not realize is just how breathtaking some of these views are.

On the west side of the Tehachapi area, such as Stallion Springs, Bear Valley Springs and Keene, you can find large vistas of the San Joaquin Valley. A hike through the Tehachapi Mountain Park will reveal views of Tehachapi Valley and Brite Valley, and (if you hike far enough) Antelope Valley from about 6,000' above. There are some good views found in Sand Canyon, especially at the north end. Oak Creek Pass has a few nice vistas. There are several good views around Caliente, too.

While it may not be completely obvious that there are breathtaking vistas in and around Tehachapi, a little exploring reveals great surprises all around.

#2 - Biological Diversity
Mountain Road - Tehachapi, California
Joshua Tree At First Light - Tehachapi, California
The Tehachapi area is about as biologically diverse as it gets. The elevation changes rapidly, and it goes from about 2,000' on the east side to almost 8,000' at the peak and back down to about 500' on the west side.

In what is considered "Tehachapi" (the area, not just the town limits), you have desert with Joshua Trees, Creosote and cactus, you have mountain-prairie grasslands, oak woodlands on rolling hills, and even tall pines in evergreen forests. It's equivalent of what you'd see traveling from Mexico to Canada, yet it is all found in one area.

Not very many places can claim the biological diversity found in this one small spot in central California. It's quite amazing, actually.

#1 - Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park
Hikers - Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park, Tehachapi, California
Pictographs #2 - Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park, Tehachapi, California
Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park, just outside of Tehachapi in Sand Canyon, is California's least known and least visited state park. Not everyone in town is even aware of its existence, and most have never visited.

That's really a shame because Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park is actually great. You trek a little over three miles on a guided hike. Along the trail you see remnants of the Native-American people that once lived at this site. The highlight of the tour is a cave covered with pictographs. It's an interesting and educational experience.

The Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park is only open on Saturday mornings in the spring and fall and by appointment only. Less than 400 people visit the park annually. It is definitely Tehachapi's best kept secret.

See also: 10 Things To Do With Kids In Tehachapi, California.

Friday, January 23, 2015

5 Winter Photography Tips

Covered Bridge - Stallion Springs, California
Winter is such a great time to photograph. A scene has a completely different look and feel when the ground is covered in snow. Storm systems can bring added interest to the sky.

But there are some special considerations for photographing at this time of the year. Below are five tips for photography in winter.

1. Check The Weather Forecast
Winter Day #2 - Stallion Springs, California
Check the weather forecast before you go out, and periodically while you are out. This tip is especially important if you are traveling to photograph. In the winter, especially if a storm is passing through, conditions can change rapidly. Roads can become dangerous, and sometimes roads will even close. You don't want to get stuck out in freezing conditions.

It's better to be prepared. If you have an idea of when conditions will improve or worsen, you can plan to avoid the worst of a winter storm. Also, be sure to have emergency items in case the worst happens. No photograph is ever worth dying for.

2. Dress Appropriately
Frozen - Stallion Springs, California
This may seem obvious but it is worth stating: dress appropriately for winter weather. You need to stay warm and dry, which means having the right shoes, pants, coat, head wear and gloves.

Winter can be brutal, and you may end up out in the elements longer than you initially planned. Don't under dress and regret it later. It's better to have too many layers than not enough.

3. Do Not Disturb
Bent And Twisted - Tehachapi, California
When you arrive at the location that you wish to photograph, be careful not to disturb the scene. Nothing ruins a tranquil winter landscape like your own footprints. Think about where you might want to shoot from prior to trampling through the snow.

On top of that, depending on exactly where you are at, there are potential hazards. Slippery surfaces, sharp ice, thin ice, and even avalanches in the mountains are possible dangers. Tripping hazards are sometimes hidden. These things could quickly ruin your day, so be careful where you walk.

4. Look For Details
Red Flower In Snow - Stallion Springs, California
Snow, icicles, and objects covered in ice or frost are great subjects for your photography. Don't just look for large landscapes. The small details often make for the most interesting winter photographs.

The opportunities for macro photography, especially, abound in the winter. Look for interesting patterns and designs made by the winter conditions.

5. Exposure
White, Fence - Tehachapi, California
One thing you can count on when photographing in the winter is that the light meter in your camera will be completely fooled. Typically your camera will try to underexpose the image, sometimes by two or more f-stops.

You'll have to pay close attention to the exposures and use exposure compensation to correct. I have found that one f-stop of additional exposure is a good starting point, and from there it can be fine-tuned. An 18% grey card (for those who use grey cards) can be used to help get the exposure right.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I'm The "Featured Photographer" In The February Issue of Urban Explorer Magazine

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
The February issue of Urban Explorer Magazine just came out, and I'm the "featured photographer." What that means is there is a four-page article about me and my photography in that issue. Cool!

There's actually quite a lot going on with my abandonment pictures. Besides getting published, I have The Urban Exploration Photography Blog that is off to a great start, and a Flickr group and Facebook page to go along with it. Exciting stuff!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

5 Elements of Successful Black & White Photographs

Mystery Drive - Stallion Springs, California
I love black & white photography. More often than not I prefer monochrome over color. I think it has a timeless fine-art feel. It is also naturally abstract (after all, no one sees the world in shades of grey).

Someone recently told me that black & white is overdone. I actually believe the opposite is true. I think that people don't convert their color images to black & white often enough. In my opinion, if color isn't essential to the point of an image then it should be made monochrome.

Black & white photographs work different than color, so you have to think about the entire process differently. Below are five elements of successful black & white photographs.

Kitchen Faucet Handle - Mojave, California
Shapes and forms are more obvious in monochrome. Without color, there is less to distract the viewer's attention from the subject of a scene. The forms within the image become the focal point. What the viewer sees are the designs.

Look for ways to emphasize the most interesting aspects of the shape of the subject that is within the scene. Make the composition of the shapes intriguing.

Worth One Dollar - Oxnard, California

Often subtle patterns get lost in color photographs. This is because the color draws the viewer's attention away from the pattern. The viewer might glance right past it.

With black & white, as long as the tones are far enough apart, patterns become obvious. Monochrome images allow the viewer to better see the shapes formed by the pattern in the scene.

Shadow Catcher - Stallion Springs, California
Even more than pattern, texture often gets lost in color images. Our minds interpret the scene based on many things, including past experiences--other things we've seen. When we see something (such as a color photograph) our minds are biased and will determine what we see and what we ignore.

Because black & white is abstract by nature, our mind's bias is more removed, and we are able to notice the fine texture more easily. In monochrome, texture is more prominent.

Wind Turbines - Tehachapi, California
Because there is not color to differentiate between elements within a scene, contrasting shades of grey are essential to successful monochrome images. Contrast is when a lighter area and darker area touch each other in a photograph.

What you must ensure is that the main subject has sufficient contrast to draw the viewer's eyes to it. You must also ensure that there is not another high-contrast element within the scene to distract the viewer's attention away from where you want it to go.

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Light is the key element that holds the four above elements--form, pattern, texture and contrast--together. Light significantly effects all of those things. What this means is that good black & white photography requires good light.

What "good light" is depends on the scene and how you want your image to look. What is good light for one image may not be for another. You may want even light. You may want light from one side. You may want soft light. You may want harsh light. Each photograph and each situation must be judged individually. It is the photographer's job to determine what is the best light for each image, and to wait until that light exists or artificially create it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Some Camera Thoughts (Nikon D5500, Nikon D5300, Nikon D3300, Nikon D3200 & Canon EOS 20D)

I recently saw two different camera questions on the world wide web. They were not posed to me personally--I was "party 'C'"--but I thought I might share and answer them here. Perhaps something I say will be helpful to someone.

The first question was, "Is it worth it to upgrade from the Nikon D5300 to the new Nikon D5500?" I mentioned last week that the Nikon D5500 is an upcoming brand-new DSLR that replaces the Nikon D5300. But the two cameras are basically identical.

The only differences worth noting between the D5500 and the D5300 are that the D5500 has a touch screen and no built-in GPS, while the D5300 has built-in GPS but no touch screen. The MSRP on the D5500 is a hundred bucks higher, too--that's worth stating.

Suppose you bought a car, say a 2014 Honda Accord with whatever the most common trim level is, and you've been driving it around for a year. Now suppose that the 2015 Accord is out (and it is basically identical to the 2014 model) and with that same trim level you get a sunroof included but the heated seats are not. Would you trade in your still-pretty-darn-new car for the 2015?

If you have money to throw around and if a sunroof is that important to you, then why not? But since you are buying Honda Accords, you are not likely independently wealthy. So it would be a waste of money to do that.

It's the same thing with cameras. It's a waste of money to "upgrade" from the D5300 to the D5500. Heck, the D3300 gives you the same image quality for even less. As far as image quality is concerned, the D5500 isn't even an upgrade over the "entry-level" model. Nikon wants to give you G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) by making you think unimportant extras are essential.

The second question was, "Is it smarter to spend $150 on a body-only Canon EOS 20D, or buy a new DSLR?" The Canon EOS 20D is a 10+ year old DSLR with an 8 megapixel APS-C sized sensor. When it was new it was considered a pretty decent camera.

Digital technology changes quickly, and DSLRs have been improving in every way. They are smaller, lighter, faster, and with better image quality. 10-year-old digital technology is practically Stone Age.

With that said, cameras don't make photographs, photographers do. Either you can or you cannot create good images. If you can create good images, you'll be able to do so with the 10+ year old 20D. If you cannot, not even a new camera will help. Photographic vision matters, equipment does not.

Perhaps the question is one of value. So you spend $150 on the 20D. You'll have to get a lens, perhaps a cheap 18-55mm zoom for $100, and you'll have to get the sensor cleaned (because I'm sure it needs to be cleaned) for $50. Now you've spent $300. If you shop around, you can typically find a Nikon D3200 DSLR with a lens for under $400. For less than $100 more, you can get a camera that is superior in pretty much every single way, and it should have a significantly longer lifespan for you (since it is brand new and not over 10-years-old).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Check Out The Urban Exploration Photography Blog

1956 Chevy Bel Air At Cameron's Dairy - Tehachapi, California
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I started a brand new photography blog: The Urban Exploration Photography Blog. This new Blog, which is born out of my Abandonment series, is doing quite well. I wasn't completely sure if separating it from the Roesch Photography Blog would be good or not, but already it's proving to be a smart choice.

If you haven't checked it out yet, here's an invitation to do so (click here). There are a bunch of good photographs on The Urban Exploration Photography Blog, many of which have never been posted here. 1956 Chevy Bel Air At Cameron's Dairy (above) and The Old Boron Housing (below) were two such photographs.
The Old Boron Housing - Boron, California
There are a lot of good articles over there, too. Abandonment: Boron Air Force Station, How I Find Abandoned Locations To Explore & Photograph, How I Got Started In Urban Exploration, Overcoming Fear In Urban Exploration Photography, Abandonment: Silver Queen Mine - Mojave, California, Urban Exploration & Safety, Top 10 Best Urban Exploration Sites In California's Mojave Desert, and Abandonment: Cameron Dairy Ranch - Tehachapi, California. There are others, too, so be sure to take a look at the The Urban Exploration Photography Blog.

You can follow my new Blog by entering your e-mail address into the "Follow by Email" tab on the right side of that Blog. Also, be sure to "Like" my companion Facebook page for The Urban Exploration Photography Blog.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

5 Quick Tips For Better Photography

Photography Is A Drug - Stallion Springs, California
I came across something recently, and, since this is a new year (which means new goals and new beginnings), I thought it might be good to share it here. Obviously I have put it into my own words. Below are five quick tips to perhaps get a little more out of your photography moving forward.

Get Uncomfortable

I recently said that photography should be uncomfortable. If you are comfortable, that's when you are most likely going to be creatively stagnant. Comfort is an enemy of creativity

You might be comfortable with a technique. You might be comfortable with your gear. You might be comfortable with a location. Perhaps you are comfortable with a style or genre. Whatever it is, find ways to make yourself uncomfortable. It is when you are uncomfortable that you'll grow as a photographer.

Seek Criticism

I was taught in photography school that peer review is an essential part of photography. Why? Because we are biased of our own work. We put time, thought, energy, and money into a photograph, so we automatically think that it is better than it actually is. We attach ourselves to our work.

Someone that isn't attached can be more objective. They can spot the things that you missed or ignored. They can see what is good and/or bad about your image better than you can.

Not all criticism is created equal and not all criticism is constructive. You have to find someone who's opinion you trust. They don't even need to be a photographer. In fact, sometimes it is better if they are not a photographer because they care less about gear and technique. What you want is someone who is intuitive to what is good art and why.

Once you've received criticism from someone who's opinion you trust, don't be defensive. Consider what they've said and if you can apply whatever it is to future photographs.

Make New Connections

I used to think that photography was a one-man sport. You go by yourself to some lonely spot, and all by yourself you capture an image that no other person had anything to do with. But more and more I'm realizing that photography is as much about relationships as it is about light.

I said make new connections, and that could mean follow someone on Facebook or join some forum, but that's not really what I'm talking about. Internet friendships are not the same as real-life friendships (at least not usually). Make a photography friend.

Or, better yet, involve your friends and family in your photography. Use photography to strengthen your already existing relationships (instead of distancing yourself, which is too often what happens with photography).

Look At The Past

I like to look back at my older work from time-to-time. Often I'm shocked at how bad my photography was. At the time I thought it was good, but now I can see that it wasn't. That gives me perspective on how far I've come. It also illustrates that what I'm doing now will not be as good as what I will create in the future, just as long as I continue to strive for improvement.

Sometimes I'm surprised at how good an image was. I thought it was good at the time, and time has proven me right. It's a good confidence builder. Other times I realize that the image was not bad, but could have been edited better. Occasionally I'll re-edit an older image to make it better.

There are plenty of lessons you can learn from your own image. You can get a better idea of where you are going by seeing where you've been. It's good to look back at your work every once in a while.

Time Management

Effectively managing your time is critical to photography (and life) success. There are so many things in life trying to grab your attention. You have to decide what's important and what is not. If something is important, allow it to have some of your time and attention. If something is not important, don't allow it to steal away too much of your time and attention.

Television is a big time-sucker. The computer can be, too. Post-processing photographs can take an incredible amount of time, so it is important to develop a workflow that minimizes the time that it takes.

Don't waste too much time with meaningless things. Consider how you are using time and if you could better allocate the minutes in a day.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

News: Nikon D5500 DSLR

Nikon just announced the D5500, which is supposed to replace the two-year-old D5300. The cameras are identical, except for a few minor things.

My first question was what happened to the D5400? I guess someone in Nikon's marketing department felt that the number didn't have a good ring to it, so they skipped it. A D5500 would sell more than a D5400 simply because of the numbers on the name plate. It's also gives the impression that you're moving up two model numbers. The D5500 must be a pretty big upgrade over the D5300, right?

But it's nothing more than marketing. Camera manufacturers are really good at marketing. They do a good job of giving people G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). The fact is that this camera will produce identical image quality to the D3300, but at a much higher cost. Nikon doesn't want you to know that--that's why they label cameras "Beginner" and "Prosumer" and "Professional" and other titles that do nothing more than make you feel you need to buy a more expensive model.

What are the big improvements that the D5500 offers over the D5300? A touch screen. That's cool, but they take away GPS. So if you want GPS, go with the D5300. If you want a touch screen, go with the D5500. If you want both, you'll have to wait for whatever DSLR will replace the D7100, which is past due for an upgrade (at least with Nikon's schedule). Personally, I don't need a touch screen or GPS.

The D5500 also offers a minor upgrade in video quality over the D5300, but they're both 1080p high-definition. It's a very minor difference. Otherwise, the two cameras are the same.

But they're not the same price. The D5500 will retail for $900 for just the body. The D5300 retails for $800 for just the body, but can be found for less than $700 if you shop around. I found a body-only D3300 for $375, and I get the same exact image quality as the D5300 and the D5500.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Photography & New Year Resolutions (Goals & Change)

Classic Car Calendar - Mojave, California
The first day of 2015 has already come and gone. Roughly half of Americans make a New Year's resolution. Someone I know made a resolution to create one quality photograph each week. 365 projects (where you capture at least one photograph each day for a year) are quite popular. There are tons of other photography related resolutions that may have been made.

I read last night that only 8% of those who make resolutions for the new year accomplish their goal. 71% fail by January 15th! With that in mind, below are five principals for successfully accomplishing your New Year's resolutions (all beginning with he letter "S").

Surrender. You have to desire whatever the change is that your resolution is supposed to bring. You must be motivated to change. The goal must be compelling enough to make it worth the effort. You must surrender yourself to that change by making it a top priority in your life.

Simple. Your goals should not be complicated. Use the K.I.S.S. method as much as possible.

Short. Less is more. If at all possible, make your goal obtainable with one action. The less steps required to finish, the more likely you'll accomplish it.

Specific. The goal needs to be tangible. Have a clear-cut objective. General terms will not do.

Shared. Tell others what you are doing. Better yet, find someone to do it with you! You'll have much more success if you are accountable to another person.

Success. If you follow the five principals above you'll have a much better shot at actually finishing what you set out to do. Don't be the 71% who won't make it to week three. Instead, beat the odds and actually complete your New Year's resolution.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What It Takes To Make Great Photographs

Light Rays - Stallion Springs, California
What does it take to make great photographs? That is an excellent question, and one that's not asked often enough. The answer is critical.

There are so many aspects to a potential answer. There are physical aspects (getting to a place to capture the great photographs), there are mental aspects (having the knowledge and experience to correctly operate the equipment to capture the great photographs), and emotional aspects (infusing meaning into the great photographs). It takes all of these aspects working together to make great photographs.

But that's the quick, easy answer. If the answer was easy everyone would be making great photographs. There is much more to it.

First, let's take a look at some principals of great photographs.
Cathedral Spires From Cook's Meadow - Yosemite National Park, California
Great photographs are aesthetic. They are visually pleasing.  They are purposefully and thoughtfully composed. Throw out the "rules" because rules and formulas don't work. Each photograph is different, and what works for one may not work for another. It's the photographer's job to figure out how to best compose an image for whatever the scene is.

Great photographs are creative. This is coming up with some way to show through a photograph your own unique perspective. It's putting a piece of yourself into your image. Creativity is trying new things. It's experimenting. It's failing. It's trying again and again and not giving up. It's pushing yourself to try harder, to think deeper. Creativity is doing what others are not doing.

Great photographs are meaningful. Photography is a form of non-verbal communication, and a photograph is strongest when the communication is strong. The meaning doesn't need to be immediately obvious and the meaning can sometimes be found in the context of a series of photographs. What's important is that the photograph non-verbally says something

Great photographs are simple. A common mistake is to include too much in a photograph. The meaning gets lost in all the clutter. Communication is strongest when it is clear and concise, and the best way to keep it clear and concise in a photograph is to keep the image as simple as possible.
Mystery Drive - Stallion Springs, California
Great photographs tell a story. You not only want to say something with your photographs, you want to say something interesting. You want your communication to be fascinating. Photography is interpreting--it is breathing life into the scene. It is saying something interesting and in a way that grabs the viewer's attention.

If you already use these principals, then you already know what it takes to make great photographs. If these principals aren't a natural part of your photography, then you have not realized the answer to the question posed at the start of this post.

So what does it take to make great photographs? Work. Failure. Practice. Repetition. Experience. Experimentation. The five principals mentioned above become natural with time.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said, "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." I like to add that your next 10,000 are your second worst. It takes that to understand your photographic vision. It takes that to fully realize the principals of great photography.

There are no shortcuts. You cannot be zapped with the necessary skills to craft great images. It is a journey. It's an adventure. And, since it is New Year's Day and 2015 has officially begun, now is the time to head down the path to better photography.